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Christopher FOX (b. 1955)
Straight Lines In Broken Times

Straight lines in broken times2 (1992) [12'44]; Etwas lebhaft (1983) [14'37]; Themes and Variations (1992-6) [38'46]; Reeling (1983) [5'19].
The Ives Ensemble.
rec. Theater Romein, Leeuwarden, 29 June-1 July 2002. DDD
METIER MSV CD92081 [71'46]

Currently Professor of Composition at Huddersfield University, Christopher Fox's impressive credentials include teaching at Darmstadt between 1984 and 1994. His questing intellect has enabled him to extend boundaries for his music, including a piece (Strangers in our midst) for cello, street musicians and surveillance video.

It was while at Darmstadt that Fox encountered the Ives Ensemble, which features here; intriguingly, he wrote a 45-minute 'realisation' of Stockhausen's Plus-Minus for them! The Ives Ensemble play supremely well right from the beginning of the minimalist-tinged Straight lines in broken times2; too minimal for this listener. The fine recording might be too much in-your-face for some listeners although this seems to be a favoured balance for music based on only occasionally varied repetition. Fox uses scale fragments as his chosen material. The raised '2' in the title refers to this as a sequence of works of the same title, of which this is the second; they are not meant to be played together. The moments that tend towards jazz are perhaps the most successful.

Etwas Lebhaft is dedicated to the memory of Webern. A Lontano commission, it moves from a raspberry-like opening to a distinct processional. I suspect the microtones are more rewarding to play than they are to listen to – the ending is, however, mightily impressive, its delicacy tinged by the preceding dissonances.

The most extended work is the Themes and Variations – the double plural is intentional and the title pays homage to Cage. Fox collects some of his favourite things into six interconnected movements. Seeing themes as 'fields of possibilities', he begins with a warmth that points to Ives rather than Cage. A special word needs to go to the agile, clear bassoonist - Jan Willen van der Ham - who shines in this work. A bell invokes ritual for the second movement, 'A bout de souffle' (a Godard tribute), before 'Intersections' pays its own homage to Feldman and Satie (allegedly), although I hear more Stravinsky than Satie here. Still, there is much mystery here before the glacial string quartet - comprising violin, viola, cello and double-bass - of the final moments. This is by far the best piece on the disc.

Reeling functions as an encore. It is the first piece in which Fox used quarter-tones. The initial clarinet scream comes as quite a shock after the end of Themes and Variations, and leads to a fun piece that is almost a game in music.

A mixed reaction, then – but Themes and Variations is definitely worth a go.

 

Colin Clarke

 

 

 



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